So here I am not quite 34 years old, a mother of 2, wife, musician, Reiki Master and Alcoholic/Addict. Labels and more Labels. I have recently been diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) so I now also carry the label “disabled.”
I came into the program of AA when I finally realised that I needed help and I had nearly ripped apart my family unit with some very stupid choices. We made a hasty move from our village to a nearby town. I was still drinking but it turned out to be one of my better decisions despite it being a pretty terrible time for us.
The outside world knew nothing of my addiction. I knew nothing of my addiction – but my husband knew. I blamed depression and anxiety. Also drinking was normal, everyone I knew was a drinker. I worked as a musician playing in pubs, after gig parties and music sessions – all perfect opportunities to rationalise my alcohol consumption.
The early days of recovery were hell! All that had changed was that I was no longer drinking. I managed two months of white knuckle sobriety and then came another decision – a litre of vodka or call the AA helpline. I decided on the helpline and picked up the phone. I was called back by a local member who told me where to go and who would meet me. I walked to the small local meeting that first day and heard my story from the people who shared. I could not wait to talk. I needed to get all the torment out, and out it came. That was the start of a difficult but wonderful journey.
The truth is that life never does what we think it should, and things happen that we never imagine happening to us. I worked really hard at my recovery. I battled through cravings in those early days. I wasn’t one of the lucky people who had the desire removed instantly. I fought and questioned everything. Because of my people pleasing tendencies I struggled to express what I liked and did not like for fear of offending them.
One trait I can be thankful for is that when I set my mind to something I am determined to see it though. So as well as weekly meetings I also saw a psychiatrist and a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) as we call them in Scotland. I also attended an emotional wellbeing group. This array of supports saved my ass in the early days.
My first major sober decision was to leave the band I was part of. We had been doing some recording and looking at touring in Germany. Whilst I loved playing my music I was beginning to realise that if I wanted to heal my family I needed to be there to show that I was changing. I rattled with anxiety on the day I was going to break the news to my band mates. They were more like family than colleagues. It was very difficult but they understood. I played a few more gigs while they looked to replace me and decide how they would continue. When I left I was surprised how much I loved the time at home. No more getting ready in the afternoons for cross country travel. No more early morning journeys in the car, or back of a van, then having to get up at 7am for all the normal family things. The best thing was I had faced a fear. I had made a decision for me, and it had benefited those around me and that felt good.
I decided to try college which I felt was another positive choice. I knew I had a brain in there and wanted to use it to help others. I applied to study health and social care and when I was accepted I felt I was finally on the road to actually living life and achieving something. However it turned out to take up a lot more time than I had realised. With my family to look after and studying till 10 pm I was exhausted. Anxiety hit and then I became depressed. I felt I couldn’t cope and decided to make the decision to leave after 3-4 months of study with a seriously battered ego.
After a month or two of licking my wounds I decided to look for a small job and then consider a part time online course. I had a job within a week for an addictions counselling charity as an admin assistant. They knew of my own addiction experience and as well as employing me, I could receive my counsellor training through them. I loved the job but had not worked in admin for a long time. Learning how the office was run was a bit of a challenge. I was also volunteering on my day off, running a 12 step group for another charity. I was really happy and life was serene.
“I think I need to see a doctor” I said to my husband one sunny summer morning. “My arm and leg have gone numb.” The doctor sent a referral to a neurologist and my health continued to decline rapidly. Within the week I was in Accident and Emergency unable to control my body movements. I had extreme weakness and could hardly hold myself up. The doctors were baffled as nothing showed up in the tests they carried out. I tried to continue working but struggled to carry out my duties. Within two months of being ill and after several absences I had to resign. I was completely heartbroken.
Since then my physical health has slowly declined. I was eventually diagnosed with dystonia (a serious movement disorder) that affects my whole body and is a symptom of FND. I get spasticity, fatigue, speech difficulties and facial spasms. I can’t cook and on a good day I can either get washed or dressed. If I do both together I will not get anything else done that day. I can’t play any of my musical instruments and I am unable to do any painting which I was just starting to gain a real interest in.
FND is a common illness but I had never heard of it. No one I know has. Yet I have learned that 5000 people a year are diagnosed with it in Scotland alone. When I saw my doctor recently he explained that I may have been ill for six months but it was just the tip of the iceberg. This is a very long debilitating illness. I have been attending physiotherapy to try and help my mobility. I was under the impression that this would make me better. This hope was dashed when during the same consultation the doctor told me to keep up with the physiotherapy so I do not decline as quickly. I felt sick – like I had been kicked in the stomach.
I called my sponsor and told other recovery friends. I do not bottle anything up these days. Letting it out keeps me sober. The only reason I am able to cope with this is because of the 12 steps. The ones I didn’t want to look at when I came to AA. Step one, Powerlessness. Step 2, Belief. Step 3, Surrender. I also cope because of my sober friends. These are the ones who understand and care about sobriety and my spiritual and emotional health and help me believe that staying sober through any situation is possible.
The start of the serenity prayer “accept the things I cannot change” has so much more meaning for me now. I had a follow up appointment today with my psychiatrist. He was concerned I may relapse into depression. I told him I accept the things I cannot change. I could not have said this without the life changing recovery journey I have been on.
As I write this we (my husband and I) are facing some major life changing decisions. Does he leave work to care for me? Do I contact adult social work? What can they do to help us? How will it affect our finances? These are big decisions that do not just affect me and my husband. They affect our children and my husband’s employer who runs a small business. Do I have confidence that we will make the right decision? Yes I do. I have prayer and wise friends. Most of all I know that life is what I make it. I choose to focus on what I can do. I can choose not to judge myself based on my current situation because I am not a label.
The 12 steps have given me the tools to deal with life, not just getting sober. They have helped me piece my life together when I had broken it. Now it is keeping my life together while I am broken and for that I will be eternally grateful.